I have applied to so many things–jobs, graduate schools, gated communities, exclusive banjo-centered cocktail parties–in the past three years that they are no longer distinct in my mind. I have to focus hard on each e-mail I send to make sure it is addressed to the correct person and that I am not grafting the CV of one graduate professor onto the name of another. I often forget the things I have applied to because there are so many and all of them seem equally unlikely to bear fruit.
One thing that is common to every application I have completed, every pitch I have sent, every inquiry and follow-up inquiry when the first inevitably goes unanswered: I have never felt like any of them has accurately represented me. I am not upset about this–that is the nature of a job application. The editorial board at a magazine does not particularly care about what sort of music I listen to. That makes sense. But as time has passed I have thought more and more about how difficult it is to show a prospective employer or professor whom I’ve never met and whose entire identity I have to judge based on a dated CV or a cursory search through the archives who I really am. I don’t mean I want to show them “who I really am” even though that’s what I just wrote. I mean relevant and useful aspects of my personality are often eclipsed in the process of applying for something.
For instance, based on my applications no one would know that I listen to music constantly. It’s very hard to talk about what music means to you without sounding like an idiot. People always say things like, “I love music.” What does that mean? But it is true. I love music. I am interested in it and I wish my job had something to do with music, or rather that I were skilled enough to be able to spend my professional life with music. I tend to get obsessive when I like a certain song or artist. I’ll listen to the same tracks on repeat over and over, trying to understand what it is about them that makes my hair stand on end. That’s not an exaggeration. Music can give me a visceral reaction: sweaty palms, colors behind my closed eyelids, a mild levity in the soles of my feet.
For a while I was obsessed with modulation. This is when a song changes key. In popular music, this usually sounds like the song suddenly going up a step. My favorite recent example of this is Beyoncé’s “Love On Top,” which after the first verse becomes a series of escalating modulations (that correspond with outfit changes).
Modulation is also prominent in traditional music. Irish reels, for instance, are based around the alternation between minor and major keys. A great example is the song that is at the top of my previous post. Or watch this video of Norman Blake. Notice how it seems to go back and forth between sounding happy and sad?
I also got heavy into suspensions for a long time. These are everywhere. They are part of what makes music interesting to listen to. But some songs focus on suspensions and resolutions more prominently. Church music played on an organ tends to sustain massive dissonant chords for a long time just so it can resolve them at the end.
I think Mumford & Sons make some really cheesy music, but a couple of things make their songs interesting if you listen for them. The first is the interesting texture of the banjo. Critics make fun of this, but that instrument is what elevates their songs from generic pop music into the realm of something that sounds unique. And Mumford & Sons love a suspension. “Below My Feet” is predicated on the suspension.
I want to talk more about this but I am overcome with the feeling that I don’t know what I am talking about, so maybe now is a good time to stop writing. Often when I read I wish novels or stories or articles had attendant playlists that would accompany different pages or chapters like the music in videogames. That’s another thing– I love video game music. In closing, I’ll leave you with Anamanaguchi’s “(T-T)b”, which has everything I like: suspensions, 8-bit textures, volume, a dramatic voiceover, and nonsense pseudophilosophy. I wanted to discuss some articles I had published in the past two weeks (my review of Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster, the next few parts of my MOOC article, and my review of Yannick Murphy’s This Is the Water), but I am sick of self-promotion.